Saturday, December 6, 2014

Mind Over Matter- Not exactly the case for the doggedly determined athlete. (a very basic explanation of over-training)

"The legs were there but the mind just wasn't in it."

"My lungs just weren't there today."

"I just couldn't push as hard as I wanted."

"I just wasn't tough enough."

People say this kind of stuff all the time to justify poor race performance and although I'm not trivializing the importance of attitude and mental strength in the sport, I would like to STRONGLY stress the mind and body are one in the same.

Some athletes are blessed with a dogged determination and will. They fight to the death. Performance for them is worth entering deep into the pain cave. The mind is an incredibly strong tool to overpower the body and these strong willed athletes push their bodies to forge on even when every cell screams, "Stop!"

When the body doesn't respond though they feel that they only faltered mentally, but their is indeed a physiological reason for whats happening: endocrine burnout.

Athletes with strong discipline have a tendency to push themselves hard in training. Sometimes they feel recovered physically but in reality they show up on race day fatigued. This is hormonal fatigue.

Runners get their ability to push hard from their hormones. These hormones are primarily epinephrine, nor-epinephrine, and testosterone, as well as cortisone and a myriad of others.

Read this excerpt to learn about the hormones:

The adrenal glands are two glands that sit on top of your kidneys that are made up of two distinct parts.
  • The adrenal cortex—the outer part of the gland—produces hormones that are vital to life, such as cortisol (which helps regulate metabolism and helps your body respond to stress) and aldosterone (which helps control blood pressure).
  • The adrenal medulla—the inner part of the gland—produces nonessential (that is, you don’t need them to live) hormones, such as adrenaline (which helps your body react to stress).
When you think of the adrenal glands (also known as suprarenal glands), stress might come to mind. And rightly so—the adrenal glands are arguably best known for secreting the hormone adrenaline, which rapidly prepares your body to spring into action in a stressful situation.
But the adrenal glands contribute to your health even at times when your body isn’t under extreme stress. In fact, they release hormones that are essential for you to live.
Anatomy of the Adrenal Glands
The adrenal glands are two, triangular-shaped organs that measure about 1.5 inches in height and 3 inches in length. They are located on top of each kidney. Their name directly relates to their location (ad—near or at; renes—kidneys).
Each adrenal gland is comprised of two distinct structures—the outer part of the adrenal glands is called the adrenal cortex. The inner region is known as the adrenal medulla.
Hormones of the Adrenal Glands
The adrenal cortex and the adrenal medulla have very different functions. One of the main distinctions between them is that the hormones released by the adrenal cortex are necessary for life; those secreted by the adrenal medulla are not.
 Adrenal Cortex Hormones
The adrenal cortex produces two main groups of corticosteroid hormones—glucocorticoids and mineralcorticoids. The release of glucocorticoids is triggered by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. Mineralcorticoids are mediated by signals triggered by the kidney.
 When the hypothalamus produces corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH), it stimulates the pituitary gland to release adrenal corticotrophic hormone (ACTH). These hormones, in turn, alert the adrenal glands to produce corticosteroid hormones.
Glucocorticoids released by the adrenal cortex include:
  • Hydrocortisone: Commonly known as cortisol, it regulates how the body converts fats, proteins, and carbohydrates to energy. It also helps regulate blood pressure and cardiovascular function.
  • Corticosterone: This hormone works with hydrocortisone to regulate immune response and suppress inflammatory reactions.
The principle mineralcorticoid is aldosterone, which maintains the right balance of salt and water while helping control blood pressure.
There is a third class of hormone released by the adrenal cortex, known as sex steroids or sex hormones. The adrenal cortex releases small amounts of male and female sex hormones. However, their impact is usually overshadowed by the greater amounts of hormones (such as estrogen and testosterone) released by the ovaries or testes.
Adrenal Medulla Hormones
Unlike the adrenal cortex, the adrenal medulla does not perform any vital functions. That is, you don’t need it to live. But that hardly means the adrenal medulla is useless. The hormones of the adrenal medulla are released after the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated, which occurs when you’re stressed. As such, the adrenal medulla helps you deal with physical and emotional stress. You can learn more by reading a SpineUniverse article about the sympathetic nervous system.
You may be familiar with the fight-or-flight response—a process initiated by the sympathetic nervous system when your body encounters a threatening (stressful) situation. The hormones of the adrenal medulla contribute to this response.
Hormones secreted by the adrenal medulla are:
  • Epinephrine: Most people know epinephrine by its other name—adrenaline. This hormone rapidly responds to stress by increasing your heart rate and rushing blood to the muscles and brain. It also spikes your blood sugar level by helping convert glycogen to glucose in the liver. (Glycogen is the liver’s storage form of glucose.)
  • Norepinephrine: Also known as noradrenaline, this hormone works with epinephrine in responding to stress. However, it can cause vasoconstriction (the narrowing of blood vessels). This results in high blood pressure. taken from

These hormones are what make up the fight or flight response. They make your heart beat faster and allow you to release fuel like fat and glycogen into your blood stream. They give athletes the ability to dig deep and really enter the pain cave in a race. Well rested and trained athletes can push themselves at 100% when these hormones are readily available.

When athletes train too much and ignore the signs of over-reaching and / or over-training these hormones become released in smaller quantities. 

The mind can't just "force" the body to perform optimally because in essence the athlete is experiencing a shortage of necessary fuel for your race. These hormones which runners usually use while racing are not there in similar quanity because the hormone system is fatigued and won't dump out the same level of hormones as it would in a non-fatigued state and therefore the runner can't dig as deeply as normal. 

For more info I suggest researching flight or fight response and stress adaptation.

You can't push at 100% all the time. The body can't differentiate life stress and training stress. Allow balance and recovery. 

Racing too frequently is a major cause of endocrine fatigue. The body needs downtime to restore hormone levels.

Good luck in your training! 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tunnel Hill 100- Race Report

I had lofty but realistic goals going into Tunnel Hill 100 on November 15, 2014.

I was in the midst of a decent year of running with three 100 mile finishes already under my belt, (or should I say "on" my belt in the form of buckles..heh heh heh)

Fall was shaping up nicely after a strong summer with performances I was proud of. Bourbon Chase in October didn't leave me completely wasted and I was still able to push myself in training and "life". My weekly mileage leading up to the race was a balancing act. I needed to recover from Bourbon Chase which left my legs more wrecked than I expected. Running 36 miles at 6:08 pace was a bear to recover from while still training. I ran a 77 mile week the immediate week following Bourbon Chase. My energy levels felt fine, my legs were just sore. Once again, the following week my energy levels were still fine and I bumped up weekly mileage into the mid 80's. Thank God for my PT who kept me loose during our weekly appointments.

I tried to focus on the now, focus on the moment, and not get wrapped up in weekly mileage goals since I knew I had been pushing hard all year in every corner of life. I cut all of my weeks short and ran what I felt like running. During the five weeks in between Bourbon Chase and Tunnel Hill I only ran one week over 100 miles. 

I tapered pretty drastically for Tunnel Hill starting two weeks out from the race. I direct a half marathon the weekend before Tunnel Hill which you should check out HERE. I only ran about 40 miles including course marking that week. The week before the race I felt fine, no real fireworks good or bad. I felt ready to run 100 miles. I felt pretty confident I'd hit my lofty goal of running a new one hundred mile personal best under 15 hours.

Race morning brought cold temps in the teens and good friends. It was awesome to hang out a bit with my coaching clients whom have all become great pals. It was one of the more enjoyable pre-race days I've had, low stress and chill.

The race didn't start on Saturday until 8:00 a.m. It was nice to sleep in.

I ran most of the opening miles with Traci Falbo and Mike Crowder. It was fun chatting with Mike about the Hawthorn Half Day race from earlier this year and past. We had a good crowd of folks all keeping pace. Traci and I run together at home frequently and we both wanted the same things out of the day. We knew we'd be good fuel for one another to restrain ourselves in the opening miles and push one another at the end. We've paced each other in hundreds and know how the other ticks.  

I focused on doing my own thing. I don't get wrapped up in running anyone else's race but we were all together at my target pace of around 8:45's for the sub 15 hour finish. The opening marathon left no solitude in the woods to gather my thoughts and get into the game.

I found it hard to break loose and get lost in the moment. I was subconsciously anxious and keyed up. I was completely focused on a sub 15 hour finish and mentally I was battling demons the whole first 60 miles and I didn't even realize it because I was so incredibly numb and without fight or passion. Stephanie said I've never been that quiet in a race before as I rolled through the aid stations. I wasn't miserable or elated. I was just numb. I didn't enjoy myself. I stuck like glue to a sold nutrition plan and held pace. I was robotic, but that's not how I thrive. I need to feel PASSION. I need to feel INSPIRED and I wasn't. I was clearly a little fatigued. I was fixated on numbers, goals, PR's, etc. I was focused on the future, and not the now. This is supposed to be fun. I was apathetic rolling through the course. I needed a heaping load of fight in me, and I had a double serving of complacency. 

By mile 40 I let Traci slowly and steadily pull away from me. I was running my own race and I wasn't concerned about someone else. Pushing harder would have caused me to blow and risk the best finish I was capable of on the day. There has been plenty of times letting someone go at mile 40 has meant that I reel them in later because they blow up. You have to do what's right for YOU. Traci continued to pull away though and I plugged away passionless, without power or drive.

My 50 mile split was 7 hours 22 minutes which was pretty much on target. As the miles went by I started to think about my life over the past few months and how I needed a break from myself. I kept thinking I need a break from myself...always pushing. I hadn't allowed any downtime. It's always "Push, push, push" and it was affecting my mood. I grabbed my iPod at mile 60 and ran in the dark. The path was lit by the sky well enough that it was safe to do so. Prior to the sunset I was already in a dark place mentally. I was battling demons. 

I was in a classic ultra mental state of emotional psychosis. It was pretty comical. I began to get tearful and choked up at the Edward Sharpe song Home. I can't explain it one bit. For those of you who have heard it (its the song from Where The Wild Things Are,) the part that messed me up was the talking part in the middle about him falling in love when the chick fell out of the window. Something about the concept of love had me disturbed. Yeah...I was jacked up. This actually set me straight and got me in the moment. I was able to finally see things clearly and understand what was happening and gain perspective. I didn't have drive and fight that day, and I acknowledged it. I knew I was having a sub-prime race, but I could be smart and salvage it by sticking to a solid pace and nutrition plan, so I did just that. 
I'm the dot in the opening of the tunnel behind Traci...

Traci continued to pull away, yet I stayed steady and passed the guy in second place. Traci and I have often talked about a dual win for us, she winning overall female and I with an overall male win. I knew it would happen when I took over 2nd place. We called it T&T, like dynamite. Ha ha ha.

I kept singing along with my iPod and just tried to embrace the misery. I was very disappointed I couldn't make myself hurt more. I just couldn't make myself hurt like I wanted. 

Blinded by the onslaught of headlamps I passed I still tried to cheer on the runners I passed by. "Good Job." I looked hard for the athletes I coach, but between the headlamps blinding me and my iPod volume I couldn't make anyone's faces out. I knew they were doing well from updates I had received.

I crossed the finish line with a 100 mile finishing time of 16:07, but missed the timing recorder somehow, so I walked back over for an official time of 16:08 something. It was the second fastest 100 I've run to date. I was 2nd overall and first male. 

I have a motto, "Placement is irrelevant". It was a good race for me, I managed the day perfectly and ran the best I could run on the day, but I know on a more recovered day I could have run much faster for my sub 15. I'm still pretty bitter about my performance but I can't have my cake and eat it too. I've been greedy. I've raced too much and it's time to recover and let the endocrine system system heal so I can build up my drive and fight to make it hurt the next go-round. I didn't sacrifice my goals outside of my personal racing and running to be at 100% for this event and it affected my ultimate goal. Alas, I accomplished a lot outside of running this year which is rewarding in its own.

Usually I try to be all upbeat and positive in these reports...but this time I just feel like telling it how it is. No context. Just truth. Here are the facts: I tried to do too much and it hurt my end goal, the most important goal, the one I really cared about. I managed the day well but could have done better. It wasn't a bad race. It was good, but I wanted great. Like I said, placement is irrelevant. I gauge myself based on my capabilities and I gauge my athletes on their capabilities. I've had strong runs in which I didn't win, some of them even better performances than wins against soft competition. It's all about maximizing personal potential and not gauging your success and self-worth on others or others opinions of you. 

The runners that I coach were inspiring! Maddy crushed a PR and placed 4th overall female in 19:49. Daniel Maddox finally got his sub 24 hour 100 mile run and did great. Rob Putz was steady and disciplined with a smile all day and finished his first 100 mile event! I couldn't be happier for these guys.

The volunteers at the race were top notch and I'd like to thank Steve Durbin for putting the race together. If you have a chance to run one of Steve's races, don't pass it up. The communal vibe is great, and he puts together a well run event with good aid and an encouraging environment.

Many congrats to Traci who blazed the course in 14:45, setting an all time American trail 100 record for females.




Friday, August 8, 2014

Burning River 100 Race Report

Mist rose from green pastures where horses grazed lazily under morning twilight. Opposite the horse farm was a federal style home with a stone wall reminiscent of colonial days. The facade faced the east and the white wood of the home wrapped itself in the orange-blue light of the morning.

I was running through a scene that could have taken place in the 1800's. It was just after 06:00 a.m. and I had been on my feet for a little over an hour running from Cleveland to Akron, Ohio in the Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run. I traversed a narrow bridge over a creek passing through the charming town of Gates Mills. The landscape reminded me more of a quaint New England town than a Cleveland suburb.

The peaceful setting was conducive to fostering the mentality I espoused early in the race. I let others run their own race and I did the same. It was going to be a long day, running over 100 miles and I was in no rush to burn through precious glycogen stores that early in the endeavor. I found a pace I thought I could hold all day long and stuck with it.

I rolled into Polo Fields aid station ahead of schedule a little over 2 hours after the start of the day. The grass was still wet with morning dew. Stephanie and Maddy tag teamed crewing swiftly and without coming to a stop I had refilled water and food for the run and made my way onto a new stretch of trail composed of mostly horse trails and bridle paths. I regrouped with the friends I had made early on and we chatted away the miles, on damp trails and moderate temps.

The mid-morning scene was a green tunnel. I ran on mostly horse trails under a lush canopy. The footing was decent- mostly well manicured dirt and crushed gravel paths stained a dark brown by the dew. The moisture in the air made the leaves explosively green. Occasionally I'd catch glimpses of the river and creek waters I was running next to and I'd envision myself as a drop of water tumbling downstream one hundred miles to Akron over the rocks and obstacles along the way. The terrain in this first third of the race was much hillier than anticipated. The climbs weren't tough by any means but they required constant vigilance to maintain a steady effort by constantly adjusting pace. The descents were short but steep, littered with small stones, just big enough to send a runner sailing in flight like a kite in a tornado. I bombed down the descents for the free speed they offered, with faith my quads wouldn't take too much abuse by the end of the day.

My quads weren't the only thing in the woods taking abuse... the ears of my new friends had to listen to me sing this horrible song that Stephanie, Maddy, and I had somehow dubbed the theme song of the weekend; Fancy by Iggy Azalea. Fancy was getting all kinds of air play race weekend. Mosi Smith joined me in singing this terrible song and I couldn't help from laughing constantly at these dudes and I in the woods singing this pop song, "I G G Y How you do dat? do dat? How you do dat? do dat?!" Clearly no stress was in our minds and we were a third of the way to Akron.

Near mile 40 I was still in great spirits as I rolled into the Oak Grove aid station. I had been running by myself for several miles. I left the guys at the last aid station I had been running with; Perhaps they didn't like my singing? My crew alerted me that I was about to complete a small loop of 5 miles before returning to the same spot, continuing my way on towards Akron. The grades of the climbs on this small loop further aggravated my Achilles tendon which was swelling with each passing mile and growing bothersome. I don't have a history of Achilles issues but I was running 100 mile weeks in July and I wondered if it was an overuse injury coming to a head. On some of the steeper climbs I would actually stop and stretch my Achilles and this concerned me. I was only at mile 45 and nursing an injury! This wasn't my first rodeo though. I knew that injuries come from flaws in form and so I searched my brain for answers. What flaw in form could contribute to this Achilles inflammation?! What was it stemming from? Gastrocnemius? Soleus?

What could I do to fix it? I have had issues arise in a races before that seemed insurmountable but mid-race I made adjustments on the fly and corrected any pain or discomfort. I'm always amazed when this happens. I ran with confidence that I could hopefully correct any further Achilles inflammation by fixing form.

I tried to remain calm rolling back into the Oak Grove aid station and I tried to joke around with my crew by doing some rap I made up about Ice-Bukaki. I told Stephanie and Maddy to have Ibuprofen and Tylenol ready at the next aid station. I hoped it wouldn't get worse but I wasn't sure what would happen. The look Maddy gave me when I asked for them to have ibuprofen ready could have cleared a room. With all the gravity she could dig up she said, "ARE YOU OK?" I promptly assured her, (and I), "YES!" with a giant grin. She didn't look convinced.

Thanks to several years now of studying and learning from my physical therapist Lauren Adwell at Advanced Orthopaedic Physical Therapy I was able to attribute the inflammation to a loading of the Soleus muscle which lies under "calf muscle" Gastrocnemius. I ran with better form creating extension and height and the Achilles inflammation lessened. After several miles the discomfort and swelling abated some more. I was ecstatic.

Nearing the half-way point a little over eight hours in, the cloud cover that had been overhead finally unleashed some rain. I enjoyed the cooling effect it had. I had ice around my neck the whole day to stay cool. I kept my clothes soaked by pouring water overhead at each aid station but I was still thankful for the cloud cover. The humidity all day had been through the roof  in the oppressive zone. The overcast conditions made the day manageable.

I hadn't been concerned about placement prior to the halfway point. In between miles 45 and 55 I saw no one. The terrain included the infamous "Bog of Despair" which I didn't find too challenging. Yeah, there was mud. There was a bog. Was there despair? No. It was fine, just some obstacles to overcome. 100 mile runs don't come without some challenges. I was glad that people on Facebook had talked up this Bog of Despair because they built it up so bad there is no way it could live up to its reputation.

Splash, splurge, squiiirrrrt. I tromped and danced through the bog. Escaping the mud as I danced through the forest, a deer clearing obstacles. Occasionally a misstep would land me ankle deep in mud that would splash up to my wet thigh. For the most part, I was fleet-footed and made good haste through the infamous "Bog of Despair".

Coming into Boston Store aid station at mile 55 I was feeling pretty good. I'd covered over half the ground to Akron from Cleveland. I guess about eight and a half hours had passed? I don't know. The town was small and charming. A great tourist spot because it feels real, not touristy and superficial. Apparently its a big deal the town lets the race proceed through it. I am thankful for their hospitality! There was a small crowd awaiting runners and as I made my way into town a man yelled out to tell me I was "in 3rd place!" It was the first I'd heard of placement and I was rather unimpressed by the news. It was too early to care where I was. I needed to run my own race.

The crowds at Boston Store aid (mi 55ish) were a bit heftier than at other aid stations. I noticed upon entering the aid station I had just caught the 2nd place runner and so I was in a hurry to get out of there. There was a lot for Maddy and Stephanie to handle at this aid station because on top of normal water and fuel, I refused the Tylenol and Ibuprofen which I had requested earlier. I finally wanted my iPod which I had been rejecting all day. I was trying to scurry out to catch 2nd place and I forgot my food and yelled in the process, "WHERE is my fucking FOOD!?" (Sorry, Mom. I dropped the F-Bomb out loud in public...) Now, get this. I make it a BIG point to show appreciation not only to the volunteers but to my crew at every aid station. I didn't mean this question towards them, it was just a question in general, phrased loudly for all to hear. Hahaha. Ooops. I suppose I came off like a jerk but I was actually very thankful and in great spirits! I gave them a fist bump of appreciation, said "Lets do this!!!" yelled a giant "THANK YOU! THANK YOU!" to the aid station workers and to my crew and then I ran off with music in ear bopping down the trail to go catch the 2nd place male.

Within minutes of leaving the Boston Store aid I passed the guy who was in 2nd and I felt like I was on a high after a low-point coming in the Boston Store aid just several moments earlier. I was singing some pretty embarrassing songs VERY loudly and I didn't care. I was on a high and rolling into mile 60 feeling good. The terrain was increasingly technical and the climbs and descents didn't lessen. I tried my best to maintain pace and force food in every 20 to 25 minutes. The stomach was rock solid all day.

With newly soaked clothes thanks to a dousing from the aid station volunteers at the Pine Lane aid station I was feeling fresh again. This routine was the script of the day. I'd feel fatigued, tired, sweltered and oppressed, but new ice around my neck at the aid station and a dousing of water would kick me in overdrive for the next four miles or so before I'd crash and repeat the process. I bumped up my electrolyte intake to combat the humidity.

Climbing out of a particularly technical stretch of gnarly hiking trails I found myself at a road near mile 60. I was feeling energized and spry for several moments and caught glimpse of a runner in front of me moving well, the 1st place guy.

I took my time catching up to him. I felt like he was moving really well, effortlessly on the road, so I tagged along for the ride. I pulled up shoulder to shoulder and yelled a big, "Hi! How's it going!!" I was hoping to turn the music down for a bit and enjoy the company of another but we didn't talk much after my initial greeting. We did run shoulder to shoulder for several miles. I couldn't really tell if he enjoyed the company or if he didn't want my immediate presence so I turned up my iPod, enjoyed my music and accepted it. Just running together was fine by me. I'd say we were both just in the zone and cool with things.

After running together for several miles on this road stretch with the 1st place guy the course veered sharply onto a bomber downhill single-track section of trail. He pulled off the trail at the entrance and politely motioned for me to go ahead and take the lead. I assume this is where my advantage came into play. We were the same pace on the roads but within the first big descent I couldn't see him behind me anymore. I understood this to mean I needed to crank it out on the trails from here on out. That's where my lead would grow. If we were similar paces on the road all I had to do was push the trail sections and I'd continue to increase my lead.

I had a giant grin coming into the Ledges aid station somewhere just shy of 70 miles. My lead had grown. I had just run through a pristine section full of rocky cliffs and waterfall laden gorges. I was running my own race stress free and leading the herd. When I saw Maddy and Stephanie I was "cool as a cucumber", no stress. I was just doing my thing singing along with the music enjoying a long run. I actually had to tame the singing down because I didn't want to waste the energy! A few times it crept into my head that taking the lead with 37 miles left meant defending it for that long, what a load to bear! ...but I took the lead by running my own race and not concerning myself with placement. I planned on continuing that trend. At Ledges aid, Maddy was all decked out in running clothes and ready to pace if I needed her but I was feeling strong and wanted to push until 75 where I had planned on picking her up in the "best case scenario". Things were unfolding nicely! The lows were balanced by big ole highs and that's all you can hope for in a 100 mile run!

Coming into Pine Knoll aid station at mile 70ish was a relief! Over two thirds out of the way! I had a little loop to do which proved a bitch, but after that tortuous loop I got more ice from Stephanie and most importantly, I had my pacer, Madelyn Blue, on board for the remainder of the day!

Maddy ran her first 100 mile run earlier this summer. She's one of those punks that got into WSER her first year in the lottery! I couldn't have been happier though because pacing her was a blast the last 45 miles and she did awesome! I wrote a report about pacing her at Western States HERE.

I told myself that I needed to push hard until mile 75...after that it was just a run with my bud Maddy. Once I was with her, I could check out mentally and let her shoulder the load. I was surprisingly good to go however, physically AND mentally.

I couldn't have been more thankful than to have Maddy as pacer. Right off the bat she was johnny on the spot making me eat my gels every twenty minutes and get in plenty of water. We shared in our amazement that I might win the 2014 Burning River 100. We tried to simply stay constant and steady but it was too exciting not to talk about a potential win.

Gunshots rung out as we dashed through corn fields and she delighted in the mud and muck. I was NOT thrilled with the course conditions. I dropped a few more F-Bombs regarding the mud and muck as Maddy daintily pranced about the cornfields as the sun set.

My head swam dizzily and we stayed on top of electrolyte consumption and upped my regimen to every 45 minutes. This electrolyte bump fixed my head and I began to move swiftly again. Maddy was like clockwork! At one point she wanted me to take a gel and I barked I wasn't ready yet. I think she took it a little personally but no harm no foul. I was just feeling cruddy. I was still appreciative.

We passed the time quickly and I was stoked to be closing in on mile 90 with no real problems. The real joy for me was that I wouldn't need a headlamp much longer than an hour or so. Leaving the covered bridge aid station we were running some of the climbs still and moving well.

We saw Stephanie after a long road run stretch. That's where the weight of the win and holding first place began to burden me and weigh me down.

There was a 5 mile stretch in the mid-90 mile range that was all on running path. This stretch was pancake flat and crushed gravel. The terrain is as fast and smooth as can be and makes quick work of the job but its incredibly boring. I began to worry that time would drag on. Maddy tried to be positive and tell me to just keep moving and I did, but I was growing tired after 95 miles and I wanted to see the finish. I was not living in the moment but I tried to embrace the situation.

I started to calm myself by listening to the crickets. I looked at my surroundings. I was in a beautiful forest, running with my friend just after sunset. The running path of crushed gravel was lit up nicely by our headlamps. Light echoed and glistened from the river we paralleled. The crickets were chirping loudly. I drained every other emotion out of my body and just put myself right was I was, running with my friend through the night. I wasn't in a race. I was just trying to push hard for 10 miles on a nice cool night. My legs were clear of the miles beforehand. I was starting over. Fatigue left and I embraced the now. Nothing else existed. If I ran as hard as I could, and drained every ounce of life out onto the course, placement was irrelevant. I knew I had to do just that. Leave it ALL out on the course. That was my motto all day. As long as I knew I maximized MY potential and ran my own race it would all be good. Placement didn't matter. Running at 100% DID matter.

Crash! We were flying down a climb and I herd a train wreck behind me. Maddy had stumbled on a rock and took a hard fall on her right side. She was covered in, her whole right thigh scraped up and her knee had a knot. I quickly asked if she was OK and upon her quick, "YEAH!" We were up and rolling again. I think she was a little stunted at my abruptness again, but no time to waste! "Let's move!" I was concerned about her fall but if she was OK then we had no spare time to lick wounds! She was a trooper pulling out in front of me again and getting to her job making sure I had food every 20 minutes and electrolytes. Ah...the joys of pacing. I've been there many a times...

We ran straight up the road climbs after mile 95. The miles kept rolling by and the terrain grew urban. Neon lights took the place of maple trees and rivers. My garmin GPS showed 100 miles and I knew we were nowhere near the finish. The course was long, really long. Maddy was whooping and hollering but I just wanted to be done. It was cool, but I was tired! There'd be room for emotion later. For now, there was still work to do and I needed to find that finish line! We ran through some sketchy parts of town and I actually told Maddy to get closer to me as there were some groups of kids roaming around but no one said anything. I heard rumors of police escorts this year for runners but we saw none. In all honesty, the one stretch through "the bad part of town" wasn't bad at all. A truck drove by and the driver yelled out, "How far have you run?!" Maddy yelled joyously "100 miles!" and I yelled back "103.4!"


I saw the finish line.

I saw no one behind me.

I won the Burning River 100 Mile Run.

I found a chair and could not manage to choke down any food. I was elated to be done running and I was more than anything, proud of the flawless race I had run. Not only had I trained effectively leading up to the race, but I ran my own race from start to finish and gained ground all day long. The official splits show I started slowly compared to the competition but then ran the fastest splits in between nearly every aid station from the halfway point to the finish. I'm happy with that! Check out the splits at the bottom of this page.

I finished at 10:25p.m.  The 104 mile run took me 17 hours and 25 minutes. My goal was 17 hours in the best possible conditions. I wasn't expecting the extra 4 miles so I'll take it! The course also boasts nearly 9000' of elevation gain. Definitely NOT a mountain 100 but definitely not flat as far as I'm concerned. I'd say its VERY hilly.

Another goal I met...running 100 miles and being in the Marriott Hotel by midnight. I didn't plan on puking though...I knew as soon as I entered the elevator it was coming up. I prayed to make into my room first. I literally ran to the room and my stomach up-heaved and let loose, right in the toilet where it belongs. It was the first time I've ever puked at the end of a race...

I think the heat or humidity ended up taking out nearly half of the runners. I think the day saw a drop out rate over 50%.

I was overall very impressed by the race. I'm pumped to go back next year to pace or run it again and defend the win. Next on my calendar is the Iron Mountain 50, a classic with stellar competition and even more stellar friends and community. Then the Bourbon Chase in October, the Tunnel Hill 100 Mile in November and Lookout Mountain 50 in December.

Many thanks to Stephanie, Maddy, and the Volunteers out there all day. I'd highly recommend the BR100 to anyone.

Burning River 100

Overall Finish List

August 02, 2014

Western Reserve Racing LLC


TotalTotalC-Polo 13.6D-Harper 7.54E-Shadow 3.23F-Egbert 4.79G-Alexander 4.34H-Oak Gr 1 6.22I-Oak Gr 2 4.32J-Snowville 5.57K-Boston 4.97L-Pine Lane 4.96M-Ledges 6.77N-Pine Hollow 1 5.73R-Botzum 18.98S-Memorial 5.37T-Finish 4.59
PlaceNameCityBib NoAgeGenderTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePace
1Troy ShellhamerLouisville KY30333M17:25:0210:21/M132:03:009:02/M121:15:009:57/M729:008:59/M846:009:36/M944:0010:08/M51:00:009:39/M344:0010:11/M21:04:0011:29/M155:0011:04/M355:0011:05/M11:05:009:36/M158:0010:07/M13:43:0011:45/M155:0010:15/M249:0210:41/M



Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Western States 100 Pacing Report- A Coaches Perspective

The hot Californian sun was beating down on us as we waited to finally see our runner at the dry and dusty Robinson Flat aid station. Robinson Flat is at mile 29.7 on the Western States 100 Endurance Run course. Our runner, Madelyn Blue left Squaw Valley at 5:00am. The online tracking software used to track runners wasn't working perfectly. We had no real idea of how Maddy was doing as we sat and baked in the dry heat looking tirelessly at our phones hoping a signal would present itself so we could once again try to check her progress online.

Upon leaving Squaw our flatlander from Kentucky, Maddy had climbed to over a mile and a half in the sky climbing up the escarpment from Olympic Village in Squaw. What a wild commencement to a 100 mile journey on foot with a 30 hour time limit.

There are 4 check-ins en route to Robinson Flat aid station. At a 30 hour pace she should have arrived at 12:55. Some of the check-ins en route hadn't registered though and so we weren't sure where she was. The two check-ins that had actually worked showed that her pace had fallen behind a 30 hour pace and as mentioned above, the time cut is 30 hours!
Jeremy playing the hurry up and wait game.

My mind was racing as we sat and waited. I was very concerned that Maddy would start too quickly and so I endlessly warned her that starting in such a rush would lead to a crash during the second half of the race and a possible DNF. (Did Not Finish). In turn, Maddy was running comfortably and confidently. I was hoping with all my being I hadn't coached her to be too comfortable. On the flip side I knew that I couldn't push her in the early stages of the race. It would spell disaster in the end when it mattered. Early on, you should push yourself at a level you could sustain infinitely and hope that your all is enough. If you're not comfortable you're pushing too hard. Running with anxiety in the early stages will cause a definite crash near mile 50-70. Maddy was running confident and calm, mentally ready to tackle this race. A true triumph was in the makings.

She came rolling in to Robinson Flat a little after 1:00. This was a little over the 30 hour time cut and only an hour before the time limit for getting pulled from the course. She heard a warning blow from the air horn and thought she missed the cut! She was doing OK though... It was only the warning blow! She came in covered in dust and had apparently fallen. She was upset that she had ran out of food since she was slightly over anticipated pace. She was doing exactly what she needed to do. She was running her own race and this was the key to success. You do what you can do and hope for the best. Run confident!

I was ecstatic that she was there and on time. The whole morning I sat and prayed. "Please just make it here so I can coach you a little more...I just need to say a few more things!" I was a bundle of nerves. She was running well though.

As our crew refilled her running pack with nutrition, I told her she was holding the same pace since the beginning. I gave her some pointers and let her know that now was the time to start picking it up a little bit. The next section was tough though. It held the infamous "canyons" which provide no shade and blasts runners with heat. Maddy was very upset when she arrived. The course was tough. The trail was at high elevation, technical and rocky and she was having trouble making time, but she was staying on track and running a wise race.

I told her confidently, "There is no room for emotion. You are a machine. Do work! There is NO room for emotions. Just do it! You've got this."

I warned her to pick up the pace only gradually. "Don't make up time too quickly or you will crash!"

We left Robinson Flat aid station about 1:30pm and I couldn't believe we wouldn't see her again until mile 55 when I would start pacing her. Part of me was elated and part of me was still nervous that my runner had to go another 7 hours without seeing her crew. Time to let the little bird fly. Seeing your crew is uplifting and motivating, but Maddy's plan only provided one crew stop in between the start and mile 55. Alas, I got to coach her a little at mile 30 and now I could only wait for my runner at mile 55, Michigan Bluff. Alas, she was on her way to Michigan Bluff and I had to sit and nervously fret about her whereabouts for another 7 hours. It's a coaches job to worry a bit...

We had a great crew and Maddy had a thorough support network. Maddy's mom and step-dad were there and they were real troopers, totally vested in this crazy venture. They put up with Maddy's friends and all of our vulgarity and antics. Rhonda and Jeremy provided expertise in crewing as they're familiar with efficiency in crewing. They've been through "The Shellhamer School" and paced and crewed me several times at Umstead. Sunny, (appropriately named), lives in California near the course and is Maddy's "BFF", Heidi has been to Umstead and paced Rhonda in a hundred as well. The experience the crew had was great, but the most vital aspect was how well we "meshed". It was great to have some laughs during the week prior to the race and then get to hang out during the waiting game that is crewing.

After a tasty and enjoyable lunch in Auburn we headed to Michigan Bluff. Sitting at the restaurant my nervous energy was growing into incredible excitement as I saw Madelyn's race plan begin to solidify and work. Her placement was moving up the field at each check-in location. She was slowly and steadily gaining several places every 5 miles or so and her splits were even. Her comfortable start was paying off and she was passing the folks who charged out of the gait early on.

I took a nap in the car as the rest of our crew went to Michigan Bluff to wait on Maddy. I needed some rest to prepare for my role of drill sergeant, cheerleader, motivator, coach, friend, story teller, time keeper, pace setter, and whip-cracker!

Thanks to accurate estimates from the online tracking software which was finally working, we knew when Maddy would be arriving and she was right on schedule.

She showed up moving well with strong form, but with a woozy and blurry mind. It was time to start getting in some gel and get some sugar feeding her brain. She recovered quickly and started speaking coherently once more. Jeremy says the worst she shape she was in the whole race in his opinion was rolling into Michigan Bluff at mile 55. Nevertheless, her continued fighting spirit urged her forward to get to work and keep moving forward!

Waiting at Michigan Bluff to start my work!
She had made it through the toughest part of the race in terms of crewing. She could see her crew and have access to her gear five times now at various times until the finish. I was thrilled she made it to Michigan Bluff with good form. I was with her from Michigan Bluff onward and I would drag her across the line if need be, however, this strong chick wouldn't need it. She was tough as nails. We left Michigan Bluff at about 9:15pm. Maddy had been running since 5am and was still ready to tackle the challenge ahead.

We only had to run 4 miles until the Bath Road aid station until she would see her crew again. The whole crew was there and ran with us up the hill to Foresthill, the 100K mark! (62 miles) Rhonda did an awesome job during this stretch of about 2 miles from Bath Road to Foresthill pushing Maddy. (This small stretch allows crews to run with pacers and runners). Rhonda was doing 2 minutes on with 1 minute off intervals. She got Maddy to work the road section hard. I saw how well Maddy responded to this strategy and so I used this same tactic throughout our next 40 miles to get Maddy to "move!"

We once again made it through another aid station in less than 60 seconds as was the goal for the day. The descent down from Foresthill was a BEAR. It was crazy steep and Maddy's quads were borderline blown, so we descended gingerly. We had already made up a lot of time since Michigan Bluff where I picked her up and I saw no need to trash her body on a very steep descent. In turn, she climbed well once we finally reached the bottom of the canyon. Within several short hours we were already slightly under the 30 hour time-cut!

I was hyper-aware of every factor that alerted me to Maddy's condition. I paid attention to her breathing rate, her form, her stride length, speed while descending, etc. I continually gauged when to push her and when to allow recovery. When she started to show signs of great fatigue I would lay off the commands to "Pick it up!" and "Close The Gap"! (the distance between us).

As the sun set, the serene mountains grew dark and played tricks on our eyes. The stretch from Foresthill to the crossing of the American River is the last long stretch with no crew access. As we ran Maddy seemed increasingly coherent but upon entering the Cal aid station, Maddy heard a rustling in the woods and was joking about a mountain lion. I promptly assured her not to worry, that in deed it was not a cougar, but aliens. Comically, the Cal aid station has a bunch of aliens hanging from trees which add to this festive aid station in the middle of nowhere.

Maddy asked to sit for the first time at the Cal-2 Peachstone Aid Station. 70.7 miles of running and she hadn't asked to sit until that point! She took a quick bathroom break. While she was enjoying the natural facilities in the woods for a few seconds I checked my watch. I was ELATED! We had further grown our buffer on the 30 hour time limit. We were ten minutes ahead of schedule now. Maddy had worked HARD to gain this buffer, and so I allowed her to walk from the aid station. Within several seconds of beginning the long 3 mile descent down the mountain from the aid station, she doubled over and began retching, dry heaving for several minutes but nothing would come out. We managed the situation and kept moving forward. This is, unfortunately, part of the hundred mile game. Sometimes we get sick in these things. You try to find the source and correct it.

Maddy's weight was doing great. She hadn't lost any weight due to dehydration or sodium depletion which is a plus. We were trying to manage electrolytes and fuel intake as best as possible. With a little soda and fuel she felt better and we trotted down the hill towards the crossing of the American River. The crossing of the American River by runners in the WSER100 is one of the most iconic scenes in the entirety of running.

I was anxious to not lose the small buffer we had cut into the 30 hour time limit. We were still dangerously close to the 30 hour time limit. She would have to literally NOT slow down at all, during the last 30 miles of a hundred mile run forcing an even split or a negative split. This is almost unheard of in a hundred mile run. Even though her stomach protested slightly we had to make haste. The gap from me to her grew with each passing moment and this is when I really had to bring my "A" game, working her non-stop.

I'd say:

"2 minutes! We're running 2 more minutes! Then we slow for 1 minute!"

"Run to that tree!"

"Close the gap! Just because I'm walking that doesn't mean slow down! Close the gap to me! Come back to me! Let's GO MADDY!"

Maddy's feet were also feeling the effects of running nearly 3 marathons on trails in the western mountains. I stripped her shoes off and revealed moist wet feet with blisters developing. We ditched her orthotic footbeds which were beginning to hurt her feet and I dressed the blisters with duct tape and dried her pruny, rotting feet. She was pretty mortified but I wasn't too shocked- not to discredit her badassery, (because she had some legitimate flesh woundage), but I've seen much worse! I knew she was in good enough shape after all the running she had done that day.

I assured her she had to try to maintain good form for the last marathon even though it would hurt because of the blisters. "It's only a flesh wound! You WILL heal in weeks, and YOUR BUCKLE WILL LAST FOREVER! Let's move!"

Even with the foot issues and dry retching, we made incredible time to the American River. I guess this makes enough sense due to the downhill nature of running down to water...regardless, we were doing very well. I was shocked at our splits given the circumstances. When you're on the threshold of barely finishing in time we couldn't afford one single slow stretch, and we had just made it through our first patch of sickness and foot-care and come out ahead once again.

We blew through the aid station on the near side of the river, (Rucky Chucky), to get across immediately to the other aid station. We were at mile 78! Maddy warned me to not be concerned if she clawed into my shoulders upon crossing to prevent a fall but I assured her there were some amazing volunteers at the crossing of the river!

A tight cable is strewn across the river and they have volunteers in wet suits standing on the downside of the cable. The water is fast and forceful but clear. They have visible glow-sticks attached to underwater rocks which work great! Volunteers point out where to step for swift and safe passage. Maddy made it across in no time at all! Only 22 miles left!

Our crew was supposed to be at the aid station but they weren't in sight. The cold water was just what Maddy (and I) needed. It was 4am and the wake up call from frigid water is undeniable.

We began the giant climb up towards the Green Gate aid station. I had been pretty sure it would be a long jaunt for a crew to get to Rucky Chucky far-side, and so I wasn't too concerned that they weren't there. I assumed they would be at the top of the climb somewhere near Green Gate. Luckily Maddy was in top form after the river crossing rebirth and she was climbing well!

Halfway up the climb we saw a whole mess of headlamps plodding down the gravel road towards us. It was our crew! They looked worse off than Maddy and I . They had lugged coolers and packs and gear for several hours trying to get to us! Sleepless and carrying awkward coolers and such, we were appreciative to say the least!

We made it to Green Gate walking for several minutes uphill with our crew. Maddy had another dry-heaving episode en-route and they got to witness the joys of running a hundred miles.

Maddy changed out of her wet clothes in a lighted port-a-potty at Green Gate. I waited and chugged a frappuccino that my delivery-servant-boy Jeremy had hiked in. While pacing the last 45 miles of a 100 mile run, there really is no "self" you basically abandon any thoughts of fatigue or what you want or need. The entire world revolves around your runner, 100% dedication to aiding them in reaching their goal. 100's are a team sport. It was nice for our crew to be there at that aid station so I could take care of my own nutrition for a moment, because shortly thereafter Maddy would get sick again, and I would be hyper-focused on nothing but her for another 6 hours. They really were a great crew. Heidi stayed positive and chatty and helped the conversation entertain as we all got to experience the race as one unit for that span of time at Green Gate aid station.

We left Green Gate at 4:55am. Exactly at the 30 hour cut off. The retching episode paired with the climb up to Green Gate had stolen back some time from us. Only seconds after leaving Green Gate poor Maddy was on the ground retching and dry-heaving again. She thought her race was over but I knew otherwise. Her lows were always followed by highs and I had a plan. It became apparent why she was retching.

I made her take a salt-tab and I gave her my last Honey Stinger Waffle. This was thankfully the last retching episode she had in the Western States 100. The sun rose shortly thereafter. It was a new day and we were feeling pretty dandy for having run 85 miles on trails. Immediately after the sun rose we chatted like normal and Maddy was pleasantly coherent. For a few miles it was just like buds out for a nice sunrise run. This was only an hour or so after Maddy thought her day was done.

Miles 80-90 are probably the easiest ten miles on the course. The climbs are mild, the trail is smooth, and the temps are still cool and comfortable.
Mile 82. Coach is snapping pictures to document! Run!

Closing in on mile 90 the newly risen sun had lost its appeal. Cumulative fatigue set in and motivation waned. Due to the time crunch Maddy didn't even to get to say "Hi" to uber-stud Hal Koerner, (former WSER100 winner with a physique as impressive as his race resume...yeah ladies- he's taken anyways, move on. hahahaha) Hal and his running shop, Rogue Valley, run the aid station at mile 90, Brown's Bar. Maddy was rough getting into Brown's Bar aid. She tried to sit and before I could say anything the aid station worker barked, "This is a 60 second TV time out, you gotta keep moving!" Thanks for sharing the pacing job, bud!

I had been whipping Maddy like a bad mule the whole time we were descending to Brown's Bar. Her feet hurt and she was tired but she couldn't toss her chance at a buckle due to fatigue and blisters. She had to pick it up. She tried to come up with several reasons to slow but I promptly discarded all of them. She was SUPPOSED to feel "tired". She was SUPPOSED to feel "messed up". It's a 100 mile run. NOTHING is tougher. Her form was good and she wasn't injured. She was just tired. "Pick it up Maddy! Let's GO! Do not waste this!"

The trail has two large climbs in the last ten miles. If you are RIGHT on the time cuts you don't have time to spare by slowing down on the final climbs in the heat. It would be a brutal finish but the draw of the line would hopefully motivate her. I knew she had to dig deep and accept as much misery as possible to push the pace up.

Maddy was so wasted she walked the downhill out of Brown's Bar. She said, "I'm done. I've used every motivational strategy possible. There is nothing left. There's no way I can endure this much agony for another several hours." I replied "You don't. You only have to get to the next aid station on time. One step at a time. One goal at a time. Stay strong mentally. Let's GO! "

"There is no room for emotion! You are a machine. Do work! There is NO room for emotions! Just do it!"

Maddy began to fade and not respond to my motivational strategies and I began to freak out that she was SO close and would miss the time cut by several minutes. I literally thought, "Holy shit. This chick has run the perfect pace, managed all the variables, and she won't push for a few more hours. She has given her all and CAN'T come up so close but still short."

She was completely hollow, blank, ghostly. I've been there and I know what it's like. I've seen this in not only myself but in others while pacing 100's. This was it. The one point in time where she could push through the crux and reach victory or fail. Maddy realized my nervous energy and angst meant business. My freaking out meant this was that moment to make it happen. "7 months of work, the chance to succeed, it all happens now!!! This is it Maddy! What you've worked for!"

She responded beautifully. It was inspiring. The whole day was inspiring honestly, seeing that much progress and mental strength. She destroyed the climb up to Hwy 49. I couldn't believe she found a way to motivate herself once again but she had. I stayed on her heals yelling the whole time, "Climb! Move to the top! Get to the end of this green tunnel! Breath harder! Breath harder! Why can't I hear your breath!? You're not working hard enough! Move!"

She did it on her own. She dug through mental trenches so deep anyone who hasn't attempted running a mountain 100 miler will never know the depths of mental hell she encountered, and came out on the other side.

We reached the Highway 49 aid station as the 30 hour whistle blew. We were still somehow on the time cut and only had 6.7 miles to go. The last climb however is like a sauna. The heat blasts off the rocks into your face. It's demoralizing. It's oppressive. If you suffer one bout of nausea, one weak moment, your pace might falter and the buckle may be lost. You might not finish. 

We had to be calculated. I yelled to our crew at Hwy 49, "No backpack! Just one water bottle! There are plenty of aid stations now! She needs to be light and MOVE!" The air held an intense vibe. Maddy looked stunned and overwhelmed at Hwy 49 aid station. She stood there blank faced and speechless as we stripped her bottles and seconds later were forcing her back out onto the trail.

Running down to No Hands Bridge aid at mile 97 I kept yelling, "I know it hurts, but you must run this descent! You must bank some time to account for the climb up to the finish! Screw the blisters! You need to run!" Maddy dug and dug and pushed and pushed. We made it to No Hands at mile 96.8 with one hour and eight minutes to get to the finish. We drenched her in ice water and she screamed an incoherent slur of shock and awakening.

Then she moved like the wind.

I started the normal strategy, "Run to the end of that shadow!" Run to this, run to that... but then she kept running. She was an animal out for blood. She was destroying the final climb on a 100 mile day. It was shocking and awesome. It was raw and carnal. She was giving it everything she had left. Moving powerfully and confidently even as the heat blasted us radiating off the rocks which faced us head on. I couldn't have been more excited and proud to see this fire in her. She was running 10 minute miles, uphill. Insanity.

Running the last mile in from Robie Point.
We got to the Robie Point aid station at mile 98.9 and we were told we only had 1.3 to go. I knew victory was in grasp for her. Our crew awaited us for the final mile and ran it in together. A team victory. Many working parts facilitating this human feat.

I was watching my watch the whole time and knew this was her strongest split the whole day. She had chomped at least 15 minutes off the 30 hour time cut in one stretch. Entering the finishing track at Placer County High School was awesome.

I felt relief, joy, pride, excitement, fatigue, everything all at once.

There is nothing like pacing someone for the last half of a 100 mile run. You see them battle and struggle more than they ever have in their life. Seeing someone pull through and stick out a perfect strategy is more than I can describe. The mental strength, confidence and steadfastness it takes to not grow anxious at the start and push too hard is almost overwhelming to comprehend. The only way to run a 100 mile race is to run within yourself.

Maddy had gone from not finishing a 50 mile run earlier in the year at Land Between the Lakes to successfully earning a buckle at Western States, an accomplishment very few can claim. Witnessing this change take place in her mentally over the past few months of coaching was more than a thrill. I had so much confidence in her going in to this, but you never know what'll happen once the day starts. She has always been tough physically, but to see the mental strength she has fostered in the past several months which all came to fruition on race day was a perfect experience.

"What do you get for finishing?" "Why would you do this?" If you have to ask, you wouldn't understand the answer.

She crossed the line at 10:40am on Sunday morning after leaving Olympic Village in Squaw at 5:00am the day prior. This journey however began 7 months ago, and there it all was coming to completion unfolding before my eyes as she crossed the line. A journey of not just 100 miles, but 1000. She was mentally, physically, in her entirety, a stronger woman.

The lessons she learned about herself and her mind will continue to spread, like seeds planted and growing feverishly.

She'll never be the same.

Heidi trying to get Ken Combs to check on progress since we had poor internet connectivity.

Mile 82. Coach is snapping pictures to document! Run! 

The Whole Gang! So many thanks to Diana and Bill for being so welcoming all week! Maddy's family is awesome!